Is multitasking the friend or enemy of your productivity?

BY Em Blunden


18 June 2018

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Do you ever hear yourself say “Where did the day go?”? I know I do! We live in a world that is full of constant distractions that seem hell-bent on drawing us away from the task at hand.

I mean, realistically, do you think you will be able to read this post from start to finish without the ding of a text, receiving an email or hearing something from one of your socials? I think not! (I’ve been pulled away from my desk 3 times just writing it).

Time management has become one of the biggest challenges we face every day, and with everything that goes on in your daily grind, you might feel like you’re doing more (and you probably feel busier). I would hazard a guess however that you are actually getting less done (or at least being less effective) than you think.

So why exactly is all this multitasking making you less efficient?

  • Your brain actually takes much longer to recognise new pieces of information. Despite being pretty amazing it cannot effectively and quickly jump between tasks. So by constantly jumping back and forth between things you are forcing it to work on overdrive, and at a limited capacity. You’re actually slowing yourself down!
  • You have a much lower retention rate when you multitask. So chances are you will have to redo at least a portion of the task you attempted. Either that or you will see the flow on effect when you forget what you learnt completely, and have to start from scratch when giving it another go.  
  • It causes mistakes! Typos, “Reply All” instead of “Reply” or just completely forgetting things. These all happen because we are rushing from one thing to another and not giving the task at hand the attention it deserves. Plus you have to factor in the time you need to spend rectifying your slip up.

So whilst that’s all well good, how exactly are you supposed to get through the million and one things on your to-do list without multitasking?! It’s a valid question and one that I understand. The nature of my role means that I’m constantly being pulled from one thing to another and the ability to juggle multiple things at once is essential.

So how do you tame the multitasking beast and start boosting your efficiency?

  • Track your time. Placing a focus on exactly where your time goes and taking the time to organise your day (and even week) into solid chunks of focussed time can significantly reduce the need (and temptation) to multitask.
  • Figure out what your biggest distraction is, and remove it. Once you know what your biggest distraction is (email anyone?) you are well poised to put some strategies in place to reduce its impact on your day.  
  • Process things in bulk. I only check my inbox twice a day and I collate all questions I need to be answered by Sam in one solid list. By concentrating my attention in this way it means I can focus clearly on what’s at hand and prioritise and adjust my workflow easily. (This one changed the game for me and I use it as much as I can.)
  • Embrace predictability. So there’s a task that you have to complete every Tuesday, but it always seems to get pushed to the end of the day when you are stressed and rushed. Schedule that s#*t in! Block out the time in your calendar first thing in the morning and don’t start on anything else until it’s done. Sure it might be tough for the first few weeks, but after a while, it will become a habit.

Multitasking has been shown to actually damage your brain, and whilst it is a necessary evil in our fast-paced world, it doesn’t mean you can’t put some strategies in place to help minimise the hurt.

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